PORTSMOUTH — A walk-a-thon hosted in honor of the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund took major steps at combating food insecurity for local children.
Students, teachers, and volunteers from Portsmouth Elementary School gathered Tuesday at the Hadsell Track & Field to raise money for children living with food insecurity as proud parents and organizers, Mark and Virgie Hunter, looked on. The Hunters, who tragically lost their son Steven in 2006, are dedicated to preserving his memory through community service.
“The Hope Fund started when Steven passed, which was in 2006. Literally, it was birthed in the funeral home. We said that instead of flowers, we wanted people to send donations for kids at Portsmouth High School,” said Mark.
The Hunters knew that the pain of their loss was enormous, but that Steven would not have wanted them to stand still. From their grief, the mission of the Hope Fund was born. And it was Mark’s wife, Virgie, who first recognized their call to expand their mission.
“Our intent was to donate clothes, shoes, a scholarship—and we did that for the first four years, and it was going well,” Mark explained. “We felt like we were helping a lot of kids, but I came home from work one day and Virgie said, ‘we just aren’t doing enough to help.’”
Virgie learned about data supporting the fact that many children in food-insecure situations typically get one decent meal a day from their school cafeterias, since food at home may be scarce. She worried that on weekends and school breaks, those same children would go hungry. When she shared her concerns with Mark, he was stunned.
“I thought about things for a quick second, and asked what turned out to be the most stupid question in the world: ‘What can we do about it?’”
Thankfully, Virgie had an answer to that question. She researched different models for food pantry programs, including “backpack programs,” which led to the genesis of Steven’s Power Pack Club. Each Friday, students enrolled in the club receive packs of nutritious, kid-friendly food to take home for the weekend.
“When the kids have their pack of food over the weekend, we don’t have to worry about them, because we know they have food. They have enough to worry about, and food insecurity shouldn’t be one of their worries,” said Kathy Amburgey, an educator at Portsmouth City Schools who Mark credited as a driving force behind the walk-a-thon.
“We just wanted to find a way to give back to them. We thought we could honor Steven and his family through the walk-a-thon. We want our kids to feel that they can give back to their community, and it’s not always financial: we have kids who write cards for nursing homes, for instance, and we are trying to find ways to teach them to reach out,” said Amburgey.
With almost 1,300 kids from 18 schools across three counties receiving power packs, it’s clear that Steven’s generous spirit has resonated deeply within his community. Amburgey knows that community support from generous business sponsors and individual donors is vital to continue their work.
“About three dollars can feed a child for a weekend. That’s the cost of a Starbucks. And that’s how we present it to our community sponsors. They can relate to that amount, and then understand why we want $150—because of how far it can go. And they know, too, that one-hundred percent of that goes to the children.”
When they consider what drives them to remain a positive force for the community, the Hunters haven’t lost sight of their inspiration.
“Steven loved people,” Mark said. “From the time he was very small, he wanted to help people. He had a way of engaging with people at their level of interest, and it was not about him. It was about them. He’d go to the kid on the playground who nobody wanted to play with, and he’d try to pull them in. He’d give away his lunch money. And as he grew into young adulthood, it never went away.”
From giving away his lunch money to a legacy which feeds a whole community, Steven’s memory is one that Portsmouth won’t soon forget. And the Hunters know that it couldn’t be done without support from the town Steven loved.
“Virgie and I are in awe of the support. We are just so, so thankful,” Mark said.
Individual donations to the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund can be pledged at: stevenshopefund.org. The walk-a-thon will continue through May 11.
Reach Kasie McCreary at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931, or by email at [email protected]
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